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Updated 05/2016

Updated 05/2016

Intellectual property rights

Protect your business ideas!

If you have a great, innovative idea you should consider protecting it as your intellectual property (IP) before announcing it to the world! Great ideas are only of value if you can legally claim them as your own.

What is intellectual property?

Intellectual property consists of products, work or processes that you have created and which give you a competitive advantage.

There are 3 subcategories:

  • Industrial property: inventions (patents), trademarks, industrial designs, new varieties of plants and geographic indications of origin
  • Artistic work protected by copyright: original literary and artistic works, music, television broadcasting, software, databases, architectural designs, advertising creations and multimedia
  • Commercial strategies: trade secrets, know-how, confidentiality agreements, or rapid production.

How can I protect my IP?

You can protect your intellectual property by means of the intellectual property rights (IPR) laid down by the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO). The form of protection depends on the type of IP:

  • patents - allow you to stop third parties from making, using or selling your invention for a certain period depending on the type of invention
  • trademarks - protect the name of your product by preventing other business from selling a product under the same name
  • copyright - informs others that you (as the author) intend to control the production, distribution, display or performance of your work. Copyright is granted automatically, with no need for formal registration. You can start using the copyright symbol immediately.

IPRs are still chiefly protected by national rather than EU laws. Defending them in each individual EU country can be complicated and costly. You can save time and money by protecting your intellectual property at EU level.

If you do business in more than one EU country, a European Union trade mark and a registered Community design give you protection in the 28 Member States of the EU in one single registration. You can register your trade mark or design in any of 23 EU languages with a single application at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). An online application costs € 850 for a trade mark and € 350 for a Community design.

You can apply for a national patent at a patent office in an EU country or for a European patent through the European Patent Office (EPO). However, a European patent needs to be validated by the national patent office in each country where protection is required. Depending on the country's law, you may have to provide translations or pay fees by a certain date. More information on costs and procedures from IP Offices in 30 European countries available here .

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Counterfeiting (unauthorised imitation of a branded good) and piracy (unauthorised copying of an item covered by an intellectual property right) have reached alarming proportions - with significant implications for innovation, growth, employment and consumer health and safety.

Depending on the law in the EU country in question and the source of counterfeit goods, the authorities to turn to are: customs, market surveillance (trading standards), the police or the patent and trade mark offices.

Protection against counterfeiting

Customs administrations are the front line of defence for your intellectual property rights at EU borders. You can ask them to detain goods suspected of infringing IPR by lodging an application for action with the competent national customs authorities.

While the request for assistance is national, requests deposited in one EU country may be granted the same legal status in all EU countries.

Forms and manual to request action from the customs.

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Help & advice

Get in touch with specialised assistance services

Get advice on your EU rights / Solve problems with a public body

European IPR Helpdesk

Free advice and training on intellectual property management for EU co-funded projects or transnational business deals.

South-East Asia IPR SME Helpdesk

Free advice and business tools to manage your intellectual property in South-East Asia.

China IPR SME Helpdesk

Free advice and business tools to manage your intellectual property in China.

Latin America IPR SME Helpdesk

Free advice and business tools to manage your intellectual property in Latin America

InnovAccess

National support measures, registration procedures and information on legislation provided by IP offices from 30 European countries.

Transatlantic IPR Portal

Gateway to country fact sheets, e-learning tools and other IP resources